Spicy Bourbon Barbecue Sauce

The secret to this spicy bourbon barbecue sauce is smoked bottled ketchup. Bourbon and molasses are added for a kickin’ barbecue sauce that’s perfect on ribs, pulled pork, burgers, chicken.

An empty pot and spoon with just a little spicy bourbon barbecue sauce at the bottom on wood

No liquid smoke in this barbecue sauce recipe. Instead, this recipe makes smoked ketchup in order to impart a subtle smokiness to the resulting sauce. Yes, smoked ketchup. Believe it. Better yet, taste it. Whether by the spoonful or slathered all over ribs that are cooked low and slow. [Editor’s Note: Yes, we know, smoking ketchup may seem sorta fussy. But why not just toss it in the smoker along with your ribs or pork shoulder (or whatever you happen to be making and that you intend to slather this sauce all over) for the first couple hours? And if you do that, you may want to slip a drip pan under the meat and swap out the bacon fat in the recipe below for a tablespoon of the drippings.] Originally published June 25, 2012.Renee Schettler Rossi

Spicy Bourbon Barbecue Sauce

  • Quick Glance
  • (1)
  • 10 M
  • 2 H, 40 M
  • Makes 1 1/2 quarts

Special Equipment: 2 to 3 handfuls hickory chips, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes


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Prepare a barrel smoker. You want the temperature to be between 225°F and 250°F (107°C and 121°C).

Place the ketchup in a large metal bowl, place the bowl in the smoker, and add a handful of the soaked hickory chips to the coals. Smoke the ketchup for 2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes. Be mindful of maintaining a consistent temperature inside the smoker, adding charcoal as needed to keep it in the 225°F to 250°F range (107°C and 121°C). You may need to add more soaked hickory chips to keep the smoke flowing.

Transfer the smoked ketchup to a large pot. Add the bourbon, mustard, molasses, water, hot red pepper sauce, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, onion powder, garlic powder, bacon drippings, and salt and stir well to combine. Place over low heat and cook, stirring occasionally for about 30 minutes, or until the sugar has dissolved and the sauce has thickened and darkened slightly. Immediately slather the sauce over some ribs or other meat of some sort. Any leftover sauce will keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

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    Recipe Testers Reviews

    This recipe makes a ridiculous amount of barbecue sauce, so if you’re just cooking up a couple racks of ribs, I would recommend not just halving but quartering the recipe. Either that or plan to freeze the leftovers. That said, it’s a delicious, very robust sauce, and definitely worth doing if you’ve got the smoker going anyway. Smoking the ketchup is an interesting touch. The ketchup can smoke right alongside your meat, and once that’s done, the sauce comes together quite easily. The resulting sauce is not overwhelmingly smoky, but simply tastes more like barbecue. Using liquid smoke instead of actually smoking the ketchup would not give the same result, so don’t even think about it. This is a very intense sauce, so use it sparingly. You want the meat to be the star.

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